The Conservative Party group at Tower Hamlets Council used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal that Deputy Mayor, Ohid Ahmed, took a taxi ride costing £140 with two colleagues and complain they could have saved public money by going on public transport.
The journey was made in December 2011. The Deputy Mayor says the event they went to was not party political but a public civil rights matter where the internationally known figure Jessie Jackson had been invited to visit the Borough.
Tory Group leader, Peter Golds, says: “Now this was taking place in Euston at 6.30pm in the evening. By quick calculations you can get from here by Docklands Light Railway to the Bank in about 12 to 15 minutes and the journey from Bank to Kings Cross is 8 minutes. And you can do it as easy as that.”
Golds contends the event was political and not “not work-related.” The journey should not have been paid for by the council: “This was not in anyway arguable an event that is dealing with his business as a councillor. If you are going after office hours, to a political rally, then it has nothing to do with you being a councillor. That is your private life and therefore he should pay it back.”
Ohid Ahmed, an independent member of the council, told East London Lines: “The event was to celebrate a very high profile Black Ethnic Minority person, an international human rights activist… And I went there to invite him to our Borough because we have a very a large BME [Black and Minority Ethnic] population.”
He argues that he did not know why the taxi journey had come to such a high amount, and that he had just followed the regular procedures set up by the council to book the journey. He adds that no complaints have been made to him by residents in the Borough about the event: “Let me make it absolutely clear… I did not get a single resident, I categorically say, a single resident that came to my surgery or came to me and criticised that I used a taxi.”
He says that the Mayor of Tower Hamlets has instructed staff to review the process and that he fully supports this.
Golds says the Tories will continue to press for the money to be reimbursed, and that they cannot see the event as anything other than political.
East London Lines has been given the following statement from the council about the rules on the use of council money for taxi journeys:
“Each individual request to book a taxi for a councillor must be agreed by the Service Head, Democratic Services or, in respect of Cabinet Members only, by the Head of the Mayor’s Office.
In normal circumstances, the basic allowance is expected to cover travel within the borough. The council will not pay for a taxi unless public transport is (a) not available, (b) is inappropriate (e.g. late at night) or (c) impractical in a particular case due to urgency – e.g. a Cabinet Member’s diary means they cannot otherwise get from one engagement to the next in time.”
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